Opera in São Paulo

Wassily Kandinsky, Meda de Feno


We have to value stable public bodies like the one at Theatro Municipal de São Paulo, so that there are many like this throughout the country

I have an emotional relationship with the Theatro Municipal de São Paulo. It was there, touching the Military Polish by Fryderyk Chopin, at the age of 13, in 1977, which I performed in public for the first time – in a concert under the artistic direction of maestro Rubens Leonelli. From 1979 onwards, I became a student of conductor Olivier Toni – a former bassoonist at the Orquestra do Theatro itself, who told me unusual stories about that institution, including the unforgettable concerts conducted by Heitor Villa-Lobos.

I started attending concerts and opera performances at Theatro Municipal since the last years of maestro Roberto Schnorrenberg's performance. It was also there that I began to understand music in an intriguing counterpoint between the old and the new, between the regional and the cosmopolitan, between the classic and the experimental. Even when I lived abroad, I always tried to find out about its schedule.

Anyway, the good news, which drives me to write this article, is that the Theatro Municipal de São Paulo is currently experiencing its best phase, reaching an extraordinary technical-artistic level. It is important, in a country with a mongrel complex like Brazil, that there is space not only for criticism, although essential, but also for praise for undertakings and achievements of historical importance.

We have to learn to value not only our talents, but also our potential in the great arts – those solemnly ignored by the most respectable press, as it dedicates its pseudo-intellectual idolatry exclusively to the culture industry. In a word, in our country, opera stages – whose artistic nature is extrinsic to the culture industry – are rarely considered. Still, the rare comments tend towards unfair or merely destructive criticism. We have to review this counterproductive state of affairs.

The history of opera in São Paulo dates back to the 70th century – at least to the times of Morgado de Mateus, an Enlightenment governor and patron. The oldest “worker” chapel master (in the colonial period, it was said of the musician who worked in the opera) that we know of, Antônio Manso, worked at the Cathedral and at the São Paulo Opera House in the XNUMXs of the XNUMXth century . Born in Sabará and having previously worked in Bahia, Antônio Manso was praised by the then governor Morgado de Mateus due to the artistic quality and modernity of his repertoire: “provided with the best tasteful solfas of the present time” – remembering that solfas They are papers with musical notation. The old São Paulo Opera House was located next to the Jesuit Church in the Pátio do Colégio. It was demolished in 1870 – it existed for about a century.

College and Church of the Jesuits (on the left) and the back of the Opera House (on the right). Photo by Militão Augusto de Azevedo.

Among the already forgotten ancient São Paulo theaters, the same tragic fate also marked two other opera houses prior to Theatro Municipal: the first Theatro São José – in the current Praça João Mendes, operated between 1864 and 1898 and was destroyed by fire – a notable abolitionists' stage, where Castro Alves' verses were recited and where Luiz Gama was honored postmortem; and the second Theatro São José – in operation for only 10 years, between 1909 and 1919, having been demolished by Cia Light in 1924 and in its place today stands the Shopping Light.

First Theater São José.

According to Theatro São José. Photo by Wilhelm Gänsli.

Interior of the second Theatro São José with orchestra pit, stage, audience and boxes.

Opened in 1911, due to its monumental architecture, the Theatro Municipal became and still is the best physical operatic space in the city of São Paulo. Its excellent structures are today in a perfect state of conservation and use.

From left to right: the second Theatro São José, the Viaduto do Chá and the Theatro Municipal. Photo by Aurélio Becherini.

What interests us most here, however, is that the structural virtues are also accompanied by an artistic direction never before experienced in São Paulo. Since assuming the musical leadership of Theatro Municipal, in 2017, maestro Roberto Minczuk has been facilitating some of the most successful operatic projects in Brazil: The Rose Cavalier by Richard Strauss, The Love of Three Oranges by Sergei Prokofiev, The Ghost Ship by Richard Wagner The Maiden of the West by Giacomo Puccini, La Traviata e Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi (with the brilliant direction of Jorge Takla) are among the most notable productions.

There were also new commissions for new operas: razor in the meat by Leonardo Martinelli and Paper Men by Elodie Bouny – both compositions with librettos inspired by dramas by Plínio Marcos.

Perhaps the best staging of Il Guarany by Antônio Carlos Gomes at all times – not only for the extremely high technical-artistic performance that involved the singers and the orchestra in the musical interpretation/execution, but also for the insertion of artistic iconography and the critical thinking of Ailton Krenak, contextualizing José's libretto de Alencar in the indigenous world – that is, to which history in fact and in law belongs.

Recently, maestro Roberto Minczuk was at the forefront of yet another high performance artistic with Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini. Of course, the artist's place of speech is the entire universe, just as the history of the arts is the history of cultural appropriations. Just as there is no pure language, as all language is metaphorical, there is also no great art without flavor in language as the result of a critical-inventive distance in relation to the culture of origin. It is no surprise that Puccini, therefore, a Tuscan composer, in his inventive transcendence, narrates a Japanese tragedy involving the characters Pinkerton and Cio-Cio-San (Madame Butterfly) – he, a Yankee-American lieutenant in the US Navy; she, a Japanese geisha.

Not only because of the conglomeration of appropriate and revisited sounds, such as the US Anthem or the traditional Japanese folk song sakura sakura, but especially through its innovation in harmonic (overcoming tonal functionality), melodic (taking the emancipation of romantic melody to its ultimate dimensions) and in orchestration (experimenting with new timbres and combinations), Puccini exposes a musical world that is always still present to us. it infects and moves us.

Although the drama is set in Nagasaki, at the beginning of the 20th century, in no way Madama Butterfly can be considered a dated opera, much less condemned to obsolescence: due to this admirable interpretation/execution at the Theatro Municipal de São Paulo, involving both the scene and the music and highlighting the dynamism of its language, the work remains thought-provoking, surprising and new .

Livia Sabag's scenic direction deserves praise. I have witnessed a series of productions, not only in Brazil, but even in other countries, in which the stage directors seem to confuse, in the world of opera, the poíesis (the inventive process of creating a work of language: crafts of the composer, the librettist or theater author, the choreographer, etc.) with the praxis (the interpretation-execution of the work: duties of the conductor, the singer, the instrumentalist, the dancer, the actor, the stage director, etc.).

Of course the praxis in staging, as it does not have solfa, it is necessarily more inventive than in music. But there are still limits to interpretation. Those who invent the language of the work are the composer and the librettist – not the stage director. Since there are no two identical stagings of the same work, freedom and even experimental innovation, due to the unavoidable idiosyncrasy of each stage director, cannot be confused with a free-for-all – as if another different work emerged through one praxis frivolous. A praxis art, on the contrary, is a hermeneutic exercise that aims to understand and prioritize the poíesis. Therefore, praxis It cannot and should not distort, much less annihilate, the language of the work.

In the case of the moving Madama Butterfly by Livia Sabag, we have a production that values ​​the poíesis of Puccini and his librettists: she understood the world of the work as a historical-ontological interaction and extracted the most expressive bodily and existential movements from it. Puccini was even more Puccini with his staging.

Livia Sabag – scenic direction.

The entire team acted perfectly integrated, enabling a beautiful visual and expressive unity in the staging – a highly successful partnership with Theatro Colón in Buenos Aires: Nicolàs Boni (scenography), Caetano Vilela (lighting), Sofia Di Nunzio (costumes), Matías Otálora (video) and Tiça Camargo (visagismo).

It also stands out Maíra Ferreira, the conductor of the Coral Paulistano, which is also in its best phase. The main singers were also splendid, with emphasis on Carmen Giannattasio (Cio-Cio-San / Madama Butterfly) – one of the most beautiful and expressive voices we have ever heard here in Brazil – and Celso Albelo (Pinkerton), perfect both vocally and in terms of drama. scene. Supporting actors Ana Lucia Benedetti (Suzuki) and Douglas Hahn (Sharpless) were also impeccable.

Another good news was the memorable performance of Jean William (Goro). Recently, the rector of the University of São Paulo, Carlos Gilberto Carlotti Júnior, stated that one of the prides of our university, in recent years, has been its potential to provide broad access to quality teaching and research. Thus, in many less favored families, for the first time, one of their children managed to study at USP – in a process with strong potential to transform not only the life of the USPian, but also that of his family and even an entire community.

Jean William, born in Barrinha and grandson of Joaquim Apolinário, a cowboy on the sugar cane plantations here in Alta Mogiana, was the first in his family to graduate from USP. He was our student on the Music Course at USP in Ribeirão Preto – he graduated in Professor Yuka de Almeida Prado's class. There is nothing more rewarding for a teacher when his work makes such a successful career possible. Jean Willliam's success is the success of free public education!

Jean William/Goro (left) and Celso Albelo/Pinkerton (right) in the scene.

Finally, the musical direction of Roberto Minczuk, leading the Municipal Symphony Orchestra in the performances of Madama Butterfly, seemed to us precise in the movements, extremely careful in every detail, obtaining a perfect balance between orchestra, choir and soloists – whether in the strongest or softest intensities – always attentive to the subtleties of Puccini's musical writing and the alternations in the scenic atmosphere . Roberto Minczuk is another excellent example of an artist from praxis (conductor) who not only understands the language of the artist of poíesis (composer) in his technical-stylistic issues, how he knows how to conduct, with the most brilliant and virtuous expression, the execution of his sounds.

Roberto Minczuk – conductor of the Theatro Municipal de São Paulo.

Due to the current artistic level of Theatro Municipal, not only São Paulo is to be congratulated, but all of Brazil. We have to value stable public bodies like the one at Theatro Municipal de São Paulo, precisely so that there are many like this throughout the country.

*Rubens Russomanno Ricciardi He is a professor at the Department of Music at the Faculty of Philosophy, Sciences and Letters of Ribeirão Preto-USP and conductor at the USP Philharmonic.

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